Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today Could End Budget Impasse

My husband arrived home late last night (actually early this morning) because the folks over at the Statehouse couldn't agree on how to fix the Governor's Budget proposal. But it now seems that they have somehow come to terms on it. Today could end the budget impasse.

Here's the story which appears in the Columbus Dispatch today:

Budget deal at hand?
Plan may include tax delay, construction-law pilot projects
Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:30 AM
Jim Siegel and Catherine Candisky

The long impasse over how to fix an $851 million hole in the state budget is expected to end today.
After another long day of negotiations that stretched late into the night, both the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the spokesman for House Speaker Armond Budish said they anticipated the deal to be completed this afternoon.

The deal would close the budget hole by delaying this year's 4.2 percent income-tax cut. The plan also will include a revamping of Ohio's 132-year-old public construction laws on a limited basis and will make it easy for schools to get a waiver to avoid having to offer all-day kindergarten starting next school year.

Sen. John A. Carey Jr., R-Wellston, said the Senate president, governor and House speaker were "working toward a resolution on the issue." He said action was not taken late yesterday because time was needed to draft the revised bill.

"We just need some time to work out the language," said Keary McCarthy, spokesman for Speaker Budish, D-Beachwood.

The deal would end a nearly two-month impasse, in which most Senate Republicans refused to vote for a budget fix that they deemed to be a damaging income-tax increase. But as the stalemate wore on, advocates for the poor, mentally ill, schools and libraries were increasingly fearful of further budget cuts.

"I guess what they are saying is the suffering isn't great enough for these guys to feel any responsibility," Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors' Association, said yesterday hours before a budget deal was reached after 11 p.m.

The 21-member Senate Republican Caucus has offered to provide five votes for the budget fix, meaning they need all 12 Democrats to vote for it in order to reach the required 17 votes for passage.

Democrats, prodded by trade unions, said the construction overhaul the Republicans were pushing as part of the deal would be better off in separate legislation. Black lawmakers worried that it could harm minority contractors' abilities to obtain state business.

The compromise that surfaced yesterday would allow three pilot university projects to be completed under changes to public construction law -- one large, one medium and one small project. Supporters of the construction overhaul say it could save up to 30 percent on building costs.

Democrats say they will agree to the three projects under the changes proposed in April by a panel convened by Gov. Ted Strickland. Some lawmakers expect the $1 billion medical center project at Ohio State University might be one of the projects.

"With any kind of pilot demonstration project, it's going to let us objectively evaluate what is working and what is not -- and, if construction reform will ultimately be a cost-saving measure," said Senate Minority Leader Capri S. Cafaro, D-Hubbard.

Though most of the talks focused on construction-law changes, Republicans also pushed for a delay in Strickland's requirement that all schools offer all-day kindergarten starting next school year. A study found it could cost Ohio schools about $200 million at a time when all districts are seeing state budget cuts or only minimal increases.

A deal will undoubtedly come as relief to county agencies that have already been forced to scale back or eliminate protective services for abused and neglected children and the elderly; mental-health services; and preschool for low-income children.

"Further cuts in community mental-health services will be a death sentence for many Ohioans who will be unable to access needed but unavailable critical care and supports," officials with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio said in an e-mail to supporters yesterday.

Supporters for public schools and libraries also started blitzing legislators with phone calls and e-mails urging them to preserve their funding.

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